I gave the following 10-minute speech in the House of Commons on Monday, April 30, on MP Jack Harris’ motion, which called for Canada to adopt an international search-and-rescue readiness standard of 30 minutes at all times for the military’s Cormorant helicopters. The Conservatives voted against the motion.
Mr. Speaker, I stand with my colleague — the honourable member for St. John’s East — in support of Motion 314.
Canada does indeed lag behind international search-and-rescue norms — that’s an indisputable fact.
And I urge the federal government to do what it takes to achieve the international readiness standard of 30 minutes at all times, from tasking one of the military’s Cormorant helicopters to becoming airborne.
Thirty minutes wheels up, in other words — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year ... a search and rescue response time of 30 minutes around the clock.
As it stands, Mr. Speaker, the wheels-up response time for the military’s search and rescue helicopters, the Cormorants, that operate across this country — including out of Gander in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador — are two-fold:
Between Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the wheels-up response time is 30 minutes.
But after 4 p.m., and on weekends, and during holidays — the wheels-up response time is two hours.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, you heard that right, a search and rescue response time of two hours during evenings, weekends, and during holidays.
Can you imagine fire departments around the country operating with one response time during the day and another during evenings and on weekends?
Can you imagine?
Canadians wouldn’t have it, because it would make no sense, because lives would be put at risk.
Because people would most certainly die.
A two-tier response time wouldn’t cut it in terms of fire on land, and a two-tier response time doesn’t cut in the North Atlantic where the survival time — in the absence of a survival suit — is measured in minutes.
Mr. Speaker, make no mistake, let there be no doubt, the Canadian military’s two-tier search and rescue response time — the inadequate search and rescue response time — has cost lives, has cost the lives of Newfoundland and Labrador mariners, and will cost more lives if the search-and-rescue response time isn’t changed.
I might add, Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Coast Guard has a 24-hour response time of 30 minutes around the clock.
Mr. Speaker, before I became a Member of Parliament almost one year ago today, I was a journalist.
I was as a reporter, a columnist, and an editor, so I know my way around a story.
In September 2005 I was the editor-in-chief of a weekly provincial newspaper — The Independent — when a fishing boat went down, which happens, I’m sorry to report, quite often where I come from.
The Melina and Keith II sank off Cape Bonavista on Sept. 12, 2005 while fishing turbot and shrimp.
What struck me about the story from the get go — what set off my spider sense — was the search-and-rescue response time.
And so I assigned a team of reporters to the story of the Melina and Keith II.
And what we learned, after weeks of investigation, was shocking.
Cutting to the chase, it took the National Defence Cormorant helicopter operating out of Gander’s 103 Search and Rescue Squadron approximately 3 hours and 8 minutes — after the capsized vessel was located — to arrive on scene.
Three hours and eight minutes.
And in that three hours and eight minutes four of the eight fishermen who were reportedly alive when the fishing boat went down had died.
Four men — half the crew — died because search and rescue didn’t get there quick enough.
Mr. Speaker, I’m not sure if Canadians watching CPAC know this, but we’re not allowed to use props when we give speeches in the House of Commons.
Which is too bad, because I’d like to show Canadians the front-page picture published in The Independent newspaper of one of the survivors of the Melina and Keith II.
The picture was of survivor Bernard Dyke, who was 17 years old when the ship went down, only his third trip to sea at that point, he was the youngest crewman on board.
He was as fresh-faced as you can imagine.
Just a teenager to look at, but with a vacant look in his eyes, a vacant look that the photographer captured in that front-page picture.
Bernard Dyke of Eastport, Bonavista Bay survived after spending more than four hours in the North Atlantic waiting to be rescued.
Four other shipmates — Ivan Dyke, Justin Ralph, Anthony Molloy and Joshua Williams — were lost.
Dressed only in T-shirt and underwear, Dyke survived by clinging to an overturned lifeboat.
He also held tight to a piece of rope, ready to lash himself to the boat if need be — so his mother would at least have his body.
Bernard Dyke told his story to The Independent, Mr. Speaker.
The boat went down in under a minute, just enough time to get off a mayday.
Only the search and rescue didn’t come quick enough — not near quick enough.
Again, all eight crewmen were reportedly alive when the boat went under, although only the captain had on a survival suit.
The men survived the first couple of hours sitting on the bottom of the overturned fishing boat.
When the boat finally went down the men survived in the water for another two hours or so by holding onto that overturned aluminum life boat.
Only they didn’t ALL survive.
Bernard Dyke watched as his friends and fellow crewmen slowly floated away, as he described it — floated away, one by one, because the search and rescue didn’t come quick enough.
Thirty minutes wheels up during the day — two hours wheels up during evenings and on weekends.
Not good enough, Mr. Speaker — no matter what the Conservatives say.
Not good enough for Bernard Dyke, not good enough for the four crewmen of the Melina and Keith II who were lost, and not good enough for provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador where people live and die by the sea.
The sinking of the Melina and Keith II is but one example of how the military’s inadequate search and rescue response has cost Newfoundland and Labrador mariners their lives.
The CBC’s The Fifth Estate carried out a recent investigation into the death of 14-year-old Burton Winters of Makkovik, Labrador.
The search and rescue didn’t come quick enough for young Burton, either, but that’s another story, another heart-wrenching story about another needless death.
The death of a teenager who walked 19 kilometres before he lay down on the ice and died, because help didn’t come soon enough.
According to the Fifth Estate investigation, Newfoundland and Labrador is ground zero for search and rescue in Atlantic Canada.
Most times there are happy endings, but not all times.
Each year there are new examples of search and rescue gone wrong.
Each year there are new examples of people who perished while waiting for search and rescue that never came.
In fact, according to the Fifth Estate, there have been nine cases in the last eight years alone — nine cases in eight years — where people died waiting for search and rescue.
How many lives will it take for the Government of Canada to accept the fact that the search and rescue response — as it stands — isn’t good enough?
How many, Mr. Speaker?
Because we’ll probably get to that number soon enough.
Here’s another interesting fact, Mr. Speaker — the survival odds in the North Atlantic are better for an offshore oil worker than for a fisherman.
Cougar Helicopters — which services the oil industry off Newfoundland and Labrador — recently implemented a wheels-up, search-and-rescue response time of 20 minutes around the clock.
Yes, Mr. Speaker — again, you heard that right — 20 minutes around the clock.
I can tell you this, Mr. Speaker — and I’ve made this point before in the House of Commons — when it comes to survival time in the North Atlantic, there's no difference between a fisherman and an offshore oil worker.
They survival time is the same.
Why then the two-tier response times?
Not good enough, Mr. Speaker.
And how does the Canadian military’s search and rescue response compare to that of other countries?
Far behind, Mr. Speaker — far, far behind.
According to a report prepared for the House of Commons Standing Committee on Defence Canada’s SAR response posture places last in comparison with Australia, Ireland, Mexico, UK, and the US.
Last, Mr. Speaker, behind Australia, Ireland, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States.
More than that, most emergencies — more than 80 per cent — require search and rescue response outside the 30-minute response time period, outside of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday.
That’s not good enough and it has to change — no matter what you hear from the Conservatives.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.